Attack of the Princesses

6pi622qp1a Around Christmas, I called my sister to get some ideas for presents for my nieces, ages 9 and 12. She told me that tween girls all loved the store, Justice. So, I drove to the mall to check it out. I did a circuit of the store and ran out. The clothes were too sparkly and silly. There were sweaters with sequined panda bears on sleds, sequined mini-skirts, and bedazzled jeans. It was trashy and infantile at the same time. I just couldn't give my smart nieces a sequined panda bear sweater, so I got them a charm for a necklace instead. Jewelry is girlie, but it's more subtle.

Peggy Orenstein has a new book about that takes on the Princess Culture for girls, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. (An excerpt of the book is here.) I found the history about pink and blue dichotomy interesting. ReelGirl sums up Orenstein's argument. My buddy, Erin, often writes about the disturbing messages to girls in the media at her blog, Marketing, Media and Childhood.

How harmful is all this pink and glitter? It's hard to get too worried when girls are surpassing boys in the classroom and in the workplace. Would a room full of pink push my nieces off the student council and off the soccer field? Probably not, but it does require more effort by parents to counteract the princess message.

28 thoughts on “Attack of the Princesses

  1. Maybe having 3 fewer girls than I do left you unprepared for girl-clothes shopping, but all of mine get wardrobed at Justice, and they certainly are neither infantile or trashy. The most recent purchase was the “Monster High” zip hoodie, based on the book all the girls are reading — kind of a mix of “The Addams Family in High School” and making fun of the tropes of both The Addams Family and High School (the zombie girl is, “like, totally mortified” when her head falls off during prom.)
    http://www.shopjustice.com/girls-clothing/monster-high/monster-high-zip-hoodie/4530866
    There are certain certainly heavily sequined items, and some skirts that are too short — there are likely clothes at any store that I wouldn’t let the girls wear (and I have a firm “No Words Across Your Butt” policy) but I don’t think you can reasonably look through the entire catalog and conclude that it’s all trashy or infantile.
    Also, all three of my girls went through a very deep, all-encompassing “Disney Princesses” phase. It started when they were 2 or 3, and had faded out at 4. Now, for my youngest, anything Disney-Princess themed is “too babyish.” She is deeply into Buzz Lightyear now, and is not dressing him up like a Princess.
    For most of these trends, I certainly wouldn’t have suggested or supported them, but I’m not seeing the expansion into cultural allegory either.

  2. We’re in the Aeropostale phase now, in 6th grade. Justice was *so* last summer. *rolls eyes* Btw, having an 11.5 year old girl is killing me here, a slow painful torturous death by whiny moodiness.

  3. My oldest is 9. I had heard that Justice was a feeder school for Aeropostale. Didn’t really the crossover would happen so soon!

  4. I dunno. In our house, pink has co-existed with picking up and studying bugs, playing video games supposedly only for boys, going to summer technology camp, etc. As long as parents aren’t actively pushing a pink-and-princesses ideology, I think you can trust most kids to diversify their cultural holdings.

  5. I have 4.5 year old girls. Pink is their favorite. They love princesses and they love lipstick (chapstick) but they also have a workbench, love star wars and star trek and thomas the train.
    People find it weird the girls have boy toys/thomas or a black and decker workbench are boy toys? Really?
    But as you said, is the dressing up like a princess and imaginative play going to be detrimental to their selves? I was under the impression kids don’t get enough imaginative play time, so I encourage it. Is that the wrong idea? There is a balance in anything, even with pink I guess.

  6. And then in my house, pink is a male color. I’m a redhead and won’t wear it, but my husband has two pink shirts and Su (almost three) loves to wear a pink dress “to match Papa”. I am concerned about the Disney stuff, it seems so unreal and not likely to prepare her for healthy relationships…but I’m more concerned about general gendering of toys and play. I want all of my children (two boys, one girl)to see the opposite gender as people before they see them as male and female…K

  7. I don’t have girls, but I’m a somewhat girlie myself. I subscribe to fashion rags, and when I was a tween, I memorized every page of Seventeen. Oh, the Phoebe Cates years! The leg warmers!
    The world is just more pink and more sparkly than it used to be. Does the color “pink” warp a girl’s brain. Probably not, especially if it’s balanced with computer camp and outdoor play, but it is jarring.
    The thing that really grossed me out by Justice was the poor quality of the clothes. One wash and it’s saggy. The sloppy princess look doesn’t look good on anyone. And there were lots of words on the ass sweatpants in there. God, I hate sweatpants.
    I was flipping through the catalog, Ragtime, and there are the doodad t-shirts which are ugly, rather than trashy, sure, but there are also a number of outfits that are straight out of a Japanese porn video.
    I just don’t get it and feel very lucky that I can dress the boys in t-shirts and be done with it.

  8. I never really wore pink as a little girl (as a green-eyed gal, I’ve always gravitated toward blues and greens), but as an adult, it has suddenly dawned on me that pink can be an extremely flattering color for ladies of a certain age. There’s a reason for those pink dressing rooms at Victoria’s Secret and the traditional advice to use pink lightbulbs. If you find the right shade, pink can do wonderful things for the complexion.

  9. “The thing that really grossed me out by Justice was the poor quality of the clothes.”
    This annoyed the crap out of me when Soph was younger. I shopped for her in the boys section for years until she started demanding pink stuff.
    Now she wants everything to be light blue, aqua blue, and white. I just Freecycled her bright-pink shag rug and replaced it with a fuzzy aqua blue one. She wears yellow and blue, not pink. I was sorting her old clothes to give away, and all the size 7-8s were pink, and all the 9-10s were blue/brown/yellow.
    My husband is in charge of E’s clothes, and he buys them mostly at Savers (local thrift store). *sigh*

  10. My “tween” (now 10) doesn’t care for pink She trends towards the brown & black and actually comes off with a quite sophisticated look that isn’t exactly mine, but I could actually wear. She also refuses to wear clothes with words on them, including store logos. But, if she were a fan of pink, I’d respect her choices. I think that respecting girls means respecting the things they enjoy. Now the logowear would be tougher, since that intrinsically seems like something you wear for other people and not for yourself.
    Part of the complaint of the Orenstein book is that what they enjoy is a marketed phenomenon, and that’s undoubtedly true. But, it’s also true that girls through the ages have liked sparkles and hair and adornment. It’s OK not to like those things, and I like having role models of girls who don’t (the young Jo, in Little Women). But it’s also OK to like those things, and it does not mean that you can’t kick a ball or run fast or do math.
    I think by being too antagonistic about the girlie stuff, we can actually end up forcing girls to choose, and that we’ll have girls giving up math because they can’t have pink pencils to work with.
    I didn’t know about “Justice” or “Aeropostale” and I think that proves that I do still leave in the boonies. Justice didn’t look trashy to me on the web site, pretty standard girls’ clothes. But, perhaps your store emphasized the more sparkly clothes.

  11. After having a girl and enjoying the broad color palette, I was dismayed to discover that the colors for little boys’ clothing is mainly confined to the following: mud, dust, rust and traffic cone. Decoration is mainly confined to large, ugly silk screening. I’ve since gravitated away from GAP to Landsend, which suits my little guy just great. At this point, it’s hard to believe he wasn’t born in a button-down corduroy shirt.
    We had a brief brush with Justice last fall when my 8-year-old and a classmate cooked up a plan to go there to get matching clothes for twin day at school. The plan fell through, but that was the first time I heard of the store.

  12. Maybe my last comment was too harsh. Let me back up.
    I do think that A. Girls are dressed in much more pink and sequins than my youth of the late 79s. B. This pink trend is part of a mass marketing campaign, aimed at girls who pressure their parents to buy this stuff. C. In contrast to boys clothing choices, it is much more time intensive and leads to many more battles with concerned parents. I never have to worry about my son’s clothes showing too much skin or anything. My brother probably wore the exact same outfit as Jonah wore to school today. My only problem is finding jeans that will fit my ling legged, skinny kid.
    Look, clothes are fun and can be a creative outlet. I get that. It’s just when I talk my friends about their tweens and clothes, it doesn’t sound fun at all. I hear about the battles between mom and kid, and about all the pressures to conform at school.

  13. How old is Peggy Orenstein’s daughter? I can’t wait for the sequel, something with “rap, “emo”, “goth”, “sexting,” or “grinding” in the title. There are things in teen life in America which make the Disney Princess nonsense seem truly innocuous.
    I agree with Judith Rich Harris. Peers determine the teen experience, and they influence each other. Parents may wish to set a good example, but they’re not as influential as the cliques at school.
    I will admit to great feelings of sympathy when I hear other mothers in nearby dressing rooms say, “You will only wear that over my dead body.” Been there, said that.

  14. “I hear about the battles between mom and kid, and about all the pressures to conform at school.”
    Uniforms!
    As far as my 8-year-old daughter is concerned, clothes mainly just sort of materialize in her closet.
    “I can’t wait for the sequel, something with “rap, “emo”, “goth”, “sexting,” or “grinding” in the title.”
    I can’t believe you skipped “cutting.”

  15. I suppose I don’t see cutting as a public assertion of personality by teens. Maybe it could be seen as a private practice?
    I based the list on the teens I saw in our local communities. Our local town’s teens tend to listen to rap, and to grind at dances. My cousin’s town’s teens listen to alternative metal bands, and have emos and goths. No idea what they do at dances. I don’t think my cousin’s sons chose to attend. There is teen drug use in both communities, and many kids have cell phones.
    I was stunned at the time that students in our affluent town, most of whom have well-educated parents, were listening on their ipods to songs which glorified violence, drug use, and the objectification of women. There was a dress code at school, but the administration didn’t enforce it.
    The current fad is “jeggings.” They are better, IMHO, than the short skirt era, the low neckline era, and the exposed midriff era.

  16. ” colors for little boys’ clothing is mainly confined to the following: mud, dust, rust and traffic cone”
    I’ve found that washing our boy’s often reveals colors beneath the mud, dust and rust. Not sure how you get rid of traffic cone in the wash.
    Reading Cranberry’s comment, I wonder what music the kidlets will listen to just to piss me off.

  17. “I do think that A. Girls are dressed in much more pink and sequins than my youth of the late 79s.”
    I don’t think this is really true, though the exact style might be different, I think there were marketing and trends of the same sort when I was younger. There was the glossy sparkly lipstick, the flashdance clothing with exposed shoulders & bras.
    I think there’s more money around, so kids have more and more variety and they have clothes younger and of more brands (the internet probably contributes to that, too).
    I think that’s it’s difficult to come up with a standard cultural norm for what’s objectionable about children’s clothing (though there might be some we agree upon). Midriff baring doesn’t disturb me as much as very tight pants (or exposed buts), for example, and that reflects some of my upbringing. I’m also perfectly comfortable with bare arms and shoulders, while I’ve heard from some parents that they find halter tops unacceptable.
    I’m guessing the same is true for music. I bought my girl the Taio Cruz “Dynamite” song recently on iTunes (partially ’cause I’d bought the Maccabee’s Candlelight). That album definitely contains some unacceptable songs. I tried to weed a couple of them, but others may have snuck through. There’s a limit to the censorship I’m willing to do and rely on lines of communication, rather than excluding info. The same is largely true for clothes, and seems to be working now. But, my daughter is not a full-fledged teen.

  18. “I don’t think this is really true, though the exact style might be different, I think there were marketing and trends of the same sort when I was younger. There was the glossy sparkly lipstick, the flashdance clothing with exposed shoulders & bras.”
    Not a fashion historian here, but weren’t halter tops and tube tops very 70s/early 80s? I believe at least one Judy Blume heroine stands out by not wearing a halter top (I’m thinking “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret”). My personal recollections of early 80s elementary fashion involve owning at least one very sparkly t-shirt. By around 6th grade (mid-80s), everyone seemed to own at least one sweatshirt with puffy designs on it. I wouldn’t answer for those being tremendously tasteful.

  19. Doug, the sad thing is, teens are not listening to music to anger their parents. We aren’t that central in their lives at that particular time (IMHO). One of my teen cousins is at present a fan of Seether, Apocalyptica, Metallica, Incubus, and other bands with dramatic names. He will explain to anyone who will listen why his taste in music is superior to yours. Everyone else in the family is waiting for him to grow up. Some of his friends, but not all, share his taste in music. I think it’s part of an attempt to not be seen as an Emo (he has large, brown eyes.)
    I believe at least one Judy Blume heroine stands out by not wearing a halter top (I’m thinking “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret”). Don’t you wish you could reuse that neuron?🙂

  20. “I believe at least one Judy Blume heroine stands out by not wearing a halter top (I’m thinking “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret”). Don’t you wish you could reuse that neuron? :-)”
    That was 23-25 year ago. I don’t think I even really finished the book. It’s like The Diary of Anne Frank with no Nazis.

  21. The question seems to be: how much of the sexting, grinding etc. is at least a partial result of the princess stuff in the early years? I know, I know nature and nurture and there isn’t going to be a straight correlation but there probably is some link between encouraging little girls to obsess about their appearance and them having appearance related issues as they mature.
    I ask myself constantly: What are my children seeing (’cause I do think that boys pick up some messages that aren’t the best from this stuff) and am I talking with them about what they see when we’re out and about?
    and
    What do they see that’s healthy in the way I think about my body, and the way my husband thinks about his body?
    Much more is caught than is taught.

  22. Oh, yeah. Tube tops & short shorts. I remember that being a pretty standard outfit. I once accidentally attracted a lot of attention along a major roadway by having to wheel my bike (I had a flat) along the road wearing (what turned out to be) clothing I wouldn’t have been wearing if I’d known what attention it would attract. And I was the most innocent teen/pre-teen imaginable (and I’ve probably grown into the most innocent middle-aged mom anyone will ever know).

  23. We’re just starting to have a little Justice envy with my 7-year old. I find it pretty crappy looking and a little pricey (though I am exceptionally cheap). The prices are right up there with Hanna
    Andersson which lasts forever.
    I wore a dress only under duress as a child and my daughter wears nothing but. Dresses are so much more comfortable and functional these days but that doesn’t explain the whole picture. We shied away from Disney until she was about 4 and had other figures to identify with. She’s fond of the princesses but also of Ramona Quimby and Laura Ingalls Wilder. In moderation, I don’t see the harm.

  24. M, my seven year old, discovered Justice this fall and likes a lot of it. She’s not into pink or sparkly stuff, either. What she likes:
    1. Animals. She is crazy about animals, and Justice has lots of T-shirts with animals. I bought her one that says “cute and smart”; it has two kittens on it. She proudly wore it school; in fact, she wore it on picture day.
    2. Knit jeggings. Jeans do not fit her well at all (they gap terribly at the small of her back), but the knit jeggings fit perfectly, with no gaps. I have no other store that has knit jeggings that actually fit her.
    3. Peace signs. My girl LOVES peace signs, and lots of Justice clothes have them. She has two Justice shirts with peace signs that I got on clearance at Marshall’s.🙂
    That’s pretty much it. Justice is too expensive for us; I bought the “cute and smart” shirt and jeggings during a 40% off sale. Marshall’s makes it more affordable.

  25. “Justice is too expensive for us; I bought the “cute and smart” shirt and jeggings during a 40% off sale.”
    As far as I can tell, Justice is never not having a 40% off sale these days. Retailmenot.com is your friend.
    My daughter-related clothing issue is that she has a gray tank top that she LOVES. And she wears it constantly. So I went to buy her a few more of them, and apparently, she and my mom got it on clearance at Macys and they don’t have it any more. Like, not anywhere. My Google-fu is powerful, and it’s just not out there.

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